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LALIT and the year 2020 – Resources of Hope

02.01.2020

The phrase “resources of hope” comes from Raymond Williams’ book Towards 2000 published in 1983 and it refers to the collective past and present history of political thinking, organization and action of the oppressed as “resources of hope” for socialists. In particular, the phrase was used in the context of the need for two conflicting currents in history to be somehow held together as a resource of hope: geographically speaking, the centralizing of modern capitalism demands the centralizing of opposition to it (in terms of ideas and actions), and yet there is an ongoing necessity to nurture the very local growth of ideas from lived experience at the grass-roots level all over the place and its creativity with perspectives from everywhere. These two currents (one centralizing struggle, and one keeping it decentralized) if they can be creatively articulated are part of our resources of hope. Let us see how these two tendencies are playing out today, with examples from four movements in the world right now.


The resources of hope at our disposition, as we begin 2020, are in the wild explosion into life, over the past 12 months, of world-wide collective localized actions – street demonstrations in the main – against oppression, and the beginnings of the bare-bones of a commonly understood program of some kind.


So, in times when the working class world-wide has not really been in a position, as the class that can win the battle, to lead the struggle by its own independent actions, there have been all manner of other forms of struggle that change the balance of forces in favour of the oppressed, while preparing the capacity for decentralized, autonomous action, on the one hand, and also more centralized actions with conscious programmatic intentions.


Huge Protests Against Sectarian and Religious Politics


So, in countries as different as India, Iraq and the Lebanon right now broad masses of people literally in their millions – working people including the unemployed and young people and women – are in the middle of huge mass actions against political structures that classify people by religion or, in the case of Iraq, by a sub-category of a religion, in cities all over the countries.


In India, a new series of laws have turned the broad masses to action against the right-wing populist leader Naraindra Modi and his RSS backers. There have been gigantic demonstrations in all the major cities, often kicked off by students. The movement is focused around protecting the “secular” nature of the Indian state, and maintaining this aspect of the founding Constitution, which is under attack from Hindu Nationalists in power. It is a tribute to the demonstrations that such broad masses of people could understand and then confront the Modi tactics of attacking the Muslim community, through the combined effect of three laws: the population census (NPR), the Citizenship Register (NRC), and the refugee status to be given only to non-Muslim refugees by the new Citizens Amendment Act.


In Iraq, the movement challenges the political system imposed by the US occupation after the US invasion which divides people on sectarian criteria. So, the mass movement – again in all the big cities in the country – opposes both the US for its recent bombing of Iraq (as well obviously as for the two wars of attrition and the occupation) and also Iran for its continued support to some of the militias that are part of the anti-ISIS coalition and are still part of the Iraq defense set-up. This, like the Indian protests, implies an understanding of complex forces that maintain the economic and political power in place. They call for the entire political class to go – and demands for a new constituent assembly are taking shape.


Similarly, the huge protests in the Lebanon, in all big cities including Beirut, oppose the same kind of sectarian divides in the political system since 1967 and thus keeping corrupt sectarian leaders at the helm, even after they vowed to end this system 30 years ago. Here, too, the degree of common understanding of the platform for the protests has been impressive, and able to resist the usual traps set by sectarian leaders’ turning people against other working people. Whether demands for the election of a proper constituent assembly to design a new constitution will get enough support soon, is yet to be seen.


But all three protest movements with anti-sectarianism, and anti-classification by religion or culture, as part of their struggle, have come out as strongly as they have, in part, because of the capitalist system going into decline, or, in the case of Iraq, not having got off the ground since the US-led destruction of the country. There is a lot of anger because of lack of jobs, and thus income. There is a harsh clash between peoples’ expectations and what the capitalist system has on offer – for themselves, and for all.


All three movements also include strong women’s participation, a legacy of the women’s emancipation movements of the early 20th Century and the liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s.


What is missing, except perhaps in India, is the visibility of the capitalist class that actually runs the show. At present, as we go into 2020, the actual bourgeoisie is still, in the main, hiding behind the “political elites” (populists, communalists, right-wing machos) that rake in corruption money from the economic powers-that-be in exchange for keeping the masses down. But, when the working class again builds up its consciousness in the future, one of the key factors of division – ethnic, cultural and religious divisions – will be less of a threat to class unity in at least some places on earth.


Huge Protests Against Capitalist Pillage and Pollution


In a  strange example of the very centralized aspect of an environmental struggle, the whole world has focused on a little girl from Sweden who had a one-girl protest against climate change that became, in turn, the focus for real demonstrations world-wide at a local decentralized level, at the same time. There were huge protests all over the globe this year. This struggle against capitalism’s blindness about the finite nature of the resources of the planet, has drawn inspiration from the environmentalists, ecologists, and people like Karl Marx who remind us that humankind is part of nature, as well as having other relationships with nature. We are not just in nature. We are of nature. So, if nature is shaken by our actions, it is us that is shaken, too. In the UK, particularly in London, there were huge, very advanced demonstrations by young people and parts of the intelligentsia, warning of species collapse, a movement called the “extinction rebellion”. While over the years people like Vandana Shiva and José Bove from India and France respectively have drawn attention to the dangers of industrial agriculture-gone-mad, others like John Bellamy Foster have helped us understand just how many tipping points are upon us, because of capitalism’s relentless pillage and pollution. For the first time over recent years, the broad masses in these struggles have the words “capitalist” and “profit” on their lips as the root-cause of the pillage and pollution. These movements at the same time identify, become part of and mobilize the social forces– in particular, the peasant class and the working class – that have the potential power to oppose and defeat the pillagers and polluters. This link-up of those who will act by taking their destiny into their hands and the problem at hand, is also a resource of hope for us at the beginning of 2020. It has shown remarkable capacity to have centralized focus – even if foisted upon it by the bourgeois media – and decentralized auto-organized structures.


In Chile, Women Take up a Chant


In Chile, students began localized protests against an increase in the price of transport that ended up in huge centralized demonstrations confronting the entire state and demanding a constituent assembly to replace the Constitution still in force since the 1973 CIA-backed military junta that ousted the democratically elected socialistic government of Salvador Allende. Again, this is a resource of hope. Students manage to lead a series of demonstrations that create social dynamics so vital that the movement soon confronts the state apparatus set up nearly 50 years ago by the military. And when there is a crackdown by the police, security forces and soldiers, and when this crackdown means literally hundreds of women are molested by these repressive forces, the women come up with an amazing resource of hope: a chant, so unifying, so clear, and so programmatically sophisticated, accusing the entire state apparatus of rape: “The rapist is you”, pointing to the judiciary, the police and the presidency. This is a bold step forward, politically, from the profoundly important “#metoo” movement, begun in 2006 on social media, and in the real world, by Tarana Bourke, and then taken up by mainly women reliant for employment on cinema bosses and media bosses, before being taken up by broad masses of women working in the automobile and restaurant industries in the USA.


So, the resource of hope here is in the linking of the struggle against patriarchy with the struggle, in the case of Chile, for a constituent assembly with a revolutionary demand for a new constitution. When there is class struggle and where the capitalist class is threatened, the working class vanguard (its leaders at the grassroots of sites and neighbourhoods) will need to galvanize the entire working class, including women. The popular consciousness of what patriarchy is (not just one or two male chauvinist pigs who don’t wash dishes enough) will give enormous strength to future political movements against the capitalist class and its patriarchal hierarchies.


Wretched of the Earth and the Organized Working Class


The “wretched of the earth” also rose up over the past year. In France, the Gilets Jaunes movement, which began when a fuel tax was the straw that broke the camel’s back, made the “invisible” and unorganized poor of France visible and strong. Every weekend, men and women who work for small businesses or who run very small ones, got together to protest at the most unusual of places: in a totally decentralized way, at the ramps onto fly-overs or junctions of motorways all over France and even in Reunion, a French colony. Although totally decentralized and with no leaders at all, the Gilets Jaunes did manage to choose to hold centralized demonstrations. And when, together, the wretched of the earth took action in centralized demonstrations Paris (they obviously did have a centralizing force), they held their events in the Champs Elysees, a lieu never used for protests before, our friends in Lutte Ouvriere tell us – an avenue full of national treasures and monuments as well as luxury brand fashion and jewelry outlets and expensive restaurants. The French media had and still has a dual attitude towards the Gilets Jaunes – both taking note of their powerful action with some admiration, and also despising their simplicity – seeing them as rural peasants, the unwashed and unpolished poor from small towns and villages.


And last week, after weeks of nation-wide strikes to protest against threats to pension rights, organized by the French trade unions and bringing transport to a standstill and reminding the world that it is workers that run trains, the buses and the metro, as well as bringing schools to close reminding us that teachers work there, there were the first signs that the Gilets jaunes might join the union demonstrations. But otherwise, these have been two parallel universes. Nevertheless, the possibilities are there because the hope has been born.      


Conclusion


So, these are just four areas where the tension between decentralized creative struggle and the germs of a more centralized struggle have shown signs of immense creativity, becoming resources of hope for all socialists. The four areas are: fighting against classification by ethno-religious divides; fighting for the planet and nature, against pollution by capitalists for profit; fighting against patriarchy and the repressive state; and the rising up of the wretched of the earth.


In Mauritius, it has been times of minimal mobilization. The political elite has made immense concessions in terms of wage increases, pension doubling, universal benefits, health care for all, education for all, as the price for relative “class peace”, and the bourgeoisie has remained in sulking silence over the concessions. Why? Partly because the most powerful (the sugar cane estates now in hotels and real estate) were ripping off money by selling off the country’s land, and partly because the bourgeoisie has still not recovered since the spectre of the working class taking direct power – in mass movements led by the working class in August 1979 and September 1980, and then re-enforced in the 1996-2000 trade union unity around the 18 All Workers’ Conferences, which opposed the IMF and World Bank conditions that have brought other working classes world-wide to their knees.


Lindsey Collen